Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?
–Mohsin Hamid - The reluctant fundamentalist - c.2007
At a market in Lahore our narrator, Changez, meets an unidentified American and offer to assist him in finding the best tea there is. He guides him to a cafe and begins to tell him his life story. The entire book is Changez revealing his past to this man.
Changez is from Lahore, but he attended Princeton, and got a job at a very prestigious American firm, his job was to travel the world and evaluate companies, to figure out the monetary value to those businesses. At Princeton he also met Erica, she comes from the wealthy elite and Changez fell in love with her. But she has a tragic past that haunts her, her childhood sweetheart, her one true love died and she still mourns him. She is unable to move on, although Changez would really like it if she did.
This title was chosen for my book club, that’s the main reason I read it, although I had meant to read it ages ago and never got around to it. The opening lines put me off when I picked it up a while back. I really dislike that telling a story to the reader device. And while it does allow for ambiguities and uncertainty I didn’t like it in this book either. To me it makes you too aware that you are reading a story, it takes me out of the tale.
Also would you really sit down and reveal intimate details to a complete stranger in a cafe?
But the story itself is in an interesting one. So I put up with the annoyance at the way it was told. I didn’t particularly like Changez, his relationship with Erica seemed a little too forced on his side. He seemed, in many ways, to be that “nice-guy” who believed that because he was nice to someone and friendly and close that he deserved some sort of sexual relationship. Erica, from my reading, was in no position to be entering into that sort of a relationship with anyone and if Changez had really had her best interests at heart surely he would have seen that rather than forced the issue, or, on occasion, hidden his true motivation behind a mask of friendship.
Still, it is an interesting tale, Changez’s gradual disillusionment with America in all its guises. His rejection of US culture and his resentment of Americans, they wander about the world thinking they know better than everyone else, thinking that they are better than anyone else.
Is that just the attitude of the wealthy though? No matter their nationality?
It is a book that is well worth a read, it makes you think, or at least it made me think. Still I wish it could have been told in a different manner, and maybe without the symbolism quite so obvious.